The MHRSB gets a thumb up

The MHRSB gets a thumb up

The Repository features, endorses work with the jail

Editor’s note: The following two stories focus on one of the pilot programs the MHRSB has funded this past year. The jail liaison program is a partnership between the Stark County Jail, Coleman Behavioral Health and the MHRSB with the goal of either connecting or re-connecting prisoners who struggle with behavioral health issues with services upon release. Our thanks goes out to Gayle Beck, editorial page editor and Malcolm Hall, staff reporter for their coverage. Both pieces have been posted with permission.

Program for inmates shows promise

Repository Editorial

The issue: Mental health and crime
Our view: Taxpayers, too, have stake in closing ‘revolving door’ at jail

Mental illness. Drug and alcohol abuse. Crime. Jail. Repeat. Psychologists, social workers, judges and police have long understood this negative cycle. Programs that can interrupt the cycle offer hope for genuine solutions, not just temporary fixes.

In Stark County, a major “jail liaison” project is focusing on helping inmates to start or continue mental health treatment once they’re released.

One goal is to keep them out of the kinds of trouble that can land them back behind bars — to “stop the revolving door at the jail,” in the words of John Aller, executive director of the Stark County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.

The board has contracted with Coleman Behavioral Health and other agencies to assess and treat offenders who have been charged with misdemeanors or less serious felonies.

And so far, so good: Stephen Thomas of Coleman Behavioral told The Rep that of about 145 inmates involved in the program during the first six months of this year, only 10 have returned to jail.

That is a remarkable result. The program will have to be evaluated over a longer period, of course, but these initial numbers are a positive sign of the impact that one-on-one attention to inmates’ mental health needs can have.

That impact isn’t confined to individual inmates. Not only are troubled Stark Countians being given a chance at a more productive life, but every former inmate who stays out of jail lightens the burden on the criminal justice system.

Stark County taxpayers who fund that system have a real stake in the success of the jail liaison program.

Copyright 2011 CantonRep.com. Some rights reserved

Copyright 2011 CantonRep.com.  Some rights reserved

 


 

Stark County launches program to address mental-health needs of inmates

By Malcolm Hall

CantonRep.com staff writer

One day this past winter, Paul Sarsany arrived for work and was told he “was going to jail.”

And since January, the Stark County Jail is where Sarsany has been, implementing a new project linking inmates with post-release, mental-health treatment.

Sarsany is an outpatient therapist with a social-service agency called Coleman Behavioral Health.

Under contract with the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Stark County, Sarsany’s employer is engaging in a jail-based program with the goal of reducing the inmate recidivism rate.

The thought is that some offenders can modify criminal behavior when put on a mental-health treatment program after being discharged from jail.

“A client, say who is off their medication for treatment of bipolar disorder, can experience violent mood swings and can become assaultive,” Sarsany said. “We want to make sure they are engaged in treatment where they are seeing a psychiatrist. When they leave the jail, I schedule follow-up appointments. My work is primarily focused on the mental-health population.”

‘REVOLVING DOOR’

Launched at the start 2011 as a pilot program, the jail liaison program was continued at the start of the state fiscal year, July 1, as an ongoing project.

“It is not a grant-funded position,” said John Aller, executive director of the county Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. “One of the goals is to stop the revolving door at the jail of people going into jail on minor offenses. ...

“We know that mental illness is a disease. If you don’t intervene and get that person treated, the chance of that person going back to jail are pretty high.”

Coleman Behavioral Health is among the nonprofit social services agencies providing mental-health treatment in this area under contract with Aller’s funding board.

Some of the jail inmates could wind up being matched up with treatment agencies other than Coleman Behavioral, such as Crisis Intervention and Recovery Center or Trillium Family Solutions.

When a suspect is taken into the jail, an assessment is made to determine if there is a history of mental-health treatment. Those who fall under Sarsany’s program are offenders facing misdemeanor or low-level felony charges.

“We want to connect them to services in the community once they are out of jail,” Stephen Thomas, director of behavioral health for Coleman Behavioral, said. “We are finding out that some were connected with agencies at the time and some need to be connected with agencies. We are not providing treatment. We are doing an assessment and linkage to the agencies who will provide the appropriate treatment.”

GAUGING SUCCESS

Officials with Coleman Behavioral think they’ve already made a difference. During the first six months, Sarsany met with about 145 jail inmates.

“And (only) 10 of those people went back to jail,” Thomas said.

Chief Deputy Michael McDonald of the county sheriff’s staff welcomes the jail liaison program. But to gauge its success?

“We haven’t had the program long enough to know,” McDonald said. “We think it is good. We want the inmates to continue to take their medication. They get off the medication, they try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.”

Canton Municipal Court has a program called Polaris Project that also focuses on the offender’s mental health.

But, Sarsany said, Polaris Project is often used as an alternative to jail. The Coleman Behavioral project is directed at offenders serving time in the county jail.

“A major problem with this population is you have a large part of them that abuse drugs and alcohol,” said Judge Stephen Belden of Canton Municipal Court. “There are some people among the mentally ill who you can keep out of jail entirely if you can develop the discipline to take their medication and continue with their treatment.”

FREEING UP BEDS

Along with helping some ex-jail inmates avoid antisocial and criminal behavior, county officials also see the program as a way to reduce the flow of offenders into the jail.

“If we can proactively keep some people from using beds at the county jail that don’t need to be there, then we can free up beds for people that need to be in there,” Aller said.

The county Mental Health and Recovery Services Board developed a model for the jail liaison program. Subsequently, Coleman Behavioral was selected to carry it out with the county board’s funding.

“We couldn’t do this if the board didn’t underwrite it,” said Paulla Gates , chief officer for behavior health for Coleman Behavioral. “It would be a free service. It would be a service that I would incur the cost of.”

Copyright 2011 CantonRep.com. Some rights reserved

Copyright 2011 CantonRep.com.  Some rights reserved

 

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